By Sharon Austin
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) — Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has given Barbados an assurance that the government will not “sit down and by the elegant flourish of a pen or pencil throw people’s lives into disorder”.
Stuart’s comments came in response to the recent ministerial statement from the minister of finance Christopher Sinckler that at least 3,000 civil servants would be laid off by March 1, 2014.
He told the media: “A careful analysis will be done and we will try to make sure that this process is run as smoothly as possible, that households are disrupted minimally but that the government’s objectives are achieved.
“…No government sits down and decides that it is going to lay off people because it wants to be wicked, because it wants to show how malicious it can be; these are very, very difficult decisions and we held [off] on decisions like this for a very long time. I take most serious exception to the situation of people erupting into applause and saying ‘we got them’ because they have to lay off people. When you have to lay off people you are making a very difficult decision and of course this situation has to be managed very humanely. It was so handled in the past and it will be handled similarly when we have to deal with it now. But this was not a situation that we could avoid.”
The prime minister reiterated that 54.3 percent of government’s revenue was being spent on wages and salary, and explained that it translated to roughly 55 cents of every dollar being earned going to pay wages and salary.
He added that the International Monetary Fund’s representatives who were here recently published a statement suggesting that wages and salaries account for 10.3 percent of Barbados’ gross domestic product.
“The question is, can we continue to ignore structural and systemic problems… We have to see the big picture. Barbados has to be economically viable, it has to be economically sound and where tough decisions have to be taken, the government of the people has to have the courage to take them,” he stressed.
Stuart expressed the view that this country’s economy must be restructured to ensure it did not remain vulnerable to these challenges.
“That is why we were here this morning launching this ultra low sulphur diesel initiative, [and] that’s why we last Friday, in the House of Assembly, introduced the new Electric Light and Power Bill, piloted by myself because the restructuring that should have taken place in this economy years ago when things were going well, [and] the benefits that should have been harvested then were not harvested, that is why we are where we are now.
“The challenge has to be met, it is being met and I am confident that out of this will come a socially balanced, economically viable and an environmentally sound Barbados that benefits … all of us, a Barbados of which we can be ultimately proud,” he insisted.
The prime minister noted that Barbados also found itself in difficult circumstances in 1974, the early 80’s and 90’s and after 9/11 (September 11, 2001).
He continued: “We were able to get things back together. People had to make sacrifices but that is the nature of the Barbadian, we know how to make sacrifices when sacrifices are required. We are a resilient people; we could not have been the great nation we have become if we did not have the resilience of which we have been able to boast over centuries.”
Stuart maintained that government had been monitoring the situation and doing the best it could, in addition to holding the hand of workers over the past six years. He reminded the reporters that government took the decision to extend the unemployment benefit period from 26 to 40 weeks in order to help those in the private sector who lost their jobs to weather the economic storm.
He pointed out that through the National Insurance Department, government put in place a $10 million retraining fund to help those who lost their jobs in the private sector.